The Ventura County juvenile justice system is facing a crisis. A recent state inspection found our Juvenile Hall to be antiquated, overcrowded and in need of replacement.
Each community in Ventura County has been impacted by violent juvenile gang crime. Murders by gang members are at an all-time high. Gang members attacked a school bus in Ventura and assaulted students attending classes at the Boys & Girls Club.
Gang members contribute disproportionately to the amount of delinquency in society and to serious crime. Research has found that gang members make up 30% of the delinquent population but contribute 86% of serious crime.
Even though Ventura County's overall crime rate has decreased since 1995, the juvenile crime rate has increased. All serious offenses and those involving violence, weapons or drugs have shown a dramatic increase in the past 10 years.
Ventura County has an aggressive posture toward adult crime. The jail does not have to turn away any adult arrestee. Police use the approach that we can stop crime by taking offenders to jail. The drop in adult crime shows the results. This approach has been successful because the community has committed the resources. Juvenile crime and violence must be addressed with the same comprehensive resources that Ventura County dedicates to adult crime.
Overcrowding in Ventura County Juvenile Hall prevents this same aggressive stance with juveniles. In 1997, overcrowding forced the release of more than 1,300 gang members and serious juvenile offenders back into the community.
Juvenile Hall has the capacity to house 84 juvenile offenders, yet its average daily population in 1997 was 115; the projected daily average for 1998 is 140.
The court releases minors awaiting trial on strict conditions of house arrest, including the wearing of an electronic monitoring device. In 1997, 28% of these minors released to the community pending trial violated their terms of release and were returned to Juvenile Hall.
The juvenile justice system in Ventura County has a history of being progressive and innovative, with a wide range of programs and services for delinquent youth. As chief probation officer, I am proud of the successful programs we operate to intervene with the most high-risk young offenders, to hold juvenile offenders accountable to the community and their victims, to provide in-custody treatment and structure and to intensively supervise juvenile probationers to assure community safety.
In spite of these efforts, we have a crisis that cannot be solved with creative community programs. We must have sufficient beds to incarcerate and treat the delinquent youth of our community.
What can we do to solve this crisis--and how can you help?
The Ventura County Probation Agency is developing plans for a juvenile justice complex. The building of this complex is supported by Ventura County leaders, including the Board of Supervisors, chief administrative officer, sheriff, district attorney, county superintendent of schools, superintendent of the Ventura Unified School District and local law enforcement.
Assemblyman Rod Wright (D-San Diego) sponsored AB 1212, which will place a bond act on the November ballot. This act would provide $350 million for the construction of local juvenile facilities.
I hope you will carefully read the bond act and keep the needs of Ventura County in mind in November.